The Phony Campaign

2008-09-21 Update

And we have … a new leader:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
"John McCain" phony1,100,000+156,000
"Barack Obama" phony1,090,000+138,000
"Bob Barr" phony37,000+3,800

This marks McCain's first appearance in first place since July. What's going on?

  • One of the top hits is from reliable lefty David Corn, a blog entry headlined: "Obama Better Watch Out for McCain's Phony Populism". Corn takes McCain's recent comments about "excess and greed and corruption" and, essentially, sobs:
    Right now, McCain is sounding a more populist tone than Obama, whose strategy seems to be to portray McCain as too tied to George W. Bush and too out of touch to be trusted with this hurting economy. So even with McCain stumbling (by declaring the "fundamentals" are strong), McCain looks more like the fighter, the guy who's ready to knock heads together--the heads of the greedy SOBs responsible for this mess--and get things going again with a healthy dose of reform. It's phony populism. It's like the head of a Mafia family decrying a crime wave caused by his own lieutenants. But that doesn't mean it cannot work politically.
    An intriguing mixture of fact and nonsense. McCain's populism certainly isn't "phony": when he speaks from his unscripted heart, his rhetoric reeks of the demagoguery, scapegoating, and economic illiteracy on which full-throated populism depends.

    And, if you're in the mood for the kind of follow-the-money finger-pointing corruption-seekers love to do, check out the relative positions of Obama and McCain on the list "All Recipients of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Campaign Contributions, 1989-2008." For extra credit, reflect on how hard Obama had to work to get that high on the list during his relatively brief political career. And then play "spot the phony."

    [Seriously, wouldn't it be nice if voter revulsion turned out every single politician appearing on that list? That would lose one guy I kind of like, John Sununu. But I'd make that trade in a heartbeat to get those other weasels out of office.]

  • Also appearing in the hit list is a National Journal interview headlined "Campaigns Capitalize on 24/7 News Cycle With 'Phony' Ads". In an interesting development both campaigns are producing "ads" that might never (in the wording of the article) "actually make it on the air as legitimate commercials." Instead they're designed to pop up in talking-head segments of cable news networks. (And, I would guess, sympathetic blogs and other websites.)

    The article deems such ads "phony" because of their low-cost, low-repetition distribution. But (note) these are traditional ad guys talking, and whether an ad is "legitimate" or not, for them, seems to hinge on whether they are funnelling campaign dollars to traditional media.

    To anyone not involved in the ad industry, however, the phenomenon seems not so much "phony" as it is "an obvious development that should have been pretty easy to foresee." High-quality video production is cheaper and faster than ever, distribution over the Internet is low-cost, news shows are hungry for current content and controversy, … Why did they not see that coming?

    Goodness knows there are more than plenty of "legitimate" ads on the tube, though.

  • Speaking of how technology changes things: there's a real neat article at Slate that summarizes the Obama campaign's recent changes to its website policy pages. Most notably for a campaign that's been recently been trying to scare Florida seniors by lying about McCain's position on Social Security, automatically tracked with software at Versionista:
    And this week the Obama campaign modified his position on a sensitive issue: Social Security. Compare the current "Seniors & Social Security" page with the previous version. Now, tell me why, oh why, would the Obama campaign decide to delete the following sentence: "[Obama] does not believe it is necessary or fair to hardworking seniors to raise the retirement age." Is he trying to stoke anxiety about his position on Social Security?
    Changing positions and pledges in mid-campaign, hoping nobody will notice is very, very phony. (But at least Obama's providing me with "change I can believe in.")

    I think Versionista is going to be a great resource over the next few weeks.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 1:22 PM EST

Burn After Reading

[Amazon Link] [4.0
stars] [IMDb Link]

We rarely go to the movie theater any more, save for the obligatory blockbusters. But I think the Coen brothers are great, and when Mrs. Salad indicated her desire to go see Burn After Reading, we were off. For her part, no matter how much she might try to deny it, I think she's got kind of a thing for George Clooney.

The plot kicks off when Osborne Cox, played by John Malkovich, gets shitcanned from his CIA post. Cox is a snarling bag of insecure misanthropy and pride; he's married to cold-hearted bitch Katie (Tilda Swinton), who's having an affair with Harry (George Clooney). Meanwhile, fitness-center worker Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) is desperately trying to turn her lonely life around with expensive cosmetic surgery and Internet hookups. Her goofy and greedy co-worker Chad (Brad Pitt) stumbles across a CD with, he thinks, valuable spy stuff on it; it turns out to belong to Osborne, and Chad and Linda hatch a get-rich-quick scheme.

I managed to get through that description without sticking "the great" in front of every actor's name; they are all excellent here. But I'll go out of my way to mention the great Richard Jenkins as Ted, who plays the straight-arrow fitness-center boss, mournfully infatuated with the oblivious Linda. Jenkins gives consistently excellent performances even in mediocre movies.

To pigeonhole, it's a black screwball comedy, and the main characters tread a very fine line: they are flawed and very stupid, but all are interesting, and most of them likeable. The movie might not be to everyone's taste, but I had a great time.

Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:43 PM EST

Out of the Deep I Cry

[Amazon Link]

On a lark, I put all five of the Edgar Award nominees for "Best [Mystery] Novel" into my TBR pile.

That was in 2005. And this is only the second one I've read in the group. Moan.

But it's good, of course. It spans decades, from the 1920s to the present day, in the fictional Millers Kill, New York, a "seemingly ordinary" town in the Adirondacks. In the distant past, failed farmer Jonathen Ketchem went missing without a trace, leaving a wife and daughter behind. Now the doctor at the local clinic has also vanished, and his case has weird similarities and connections to the Ketchem case.

Trying to sort through it all is Clare Fergusson, priest at the local Episcopal church; she's also an ex-army helicopter pilot, and she's pretty awesome. Also in the mix is town native Russ Van Alstyne. Thirty years previous, he bravely saved the Widow Ketchem from a suicide attempt, and now he's police chief. They make an unlikely crime-fighting duo, but it worked for me.

This turns out to have been the third book in a (so far) series of six. A more-aware reader might have picked up on this, but I didn't notice. To Ms Spencer-Fleming's credit, it works well as a stand-alone, not relying on the reader's knowledge of her characters' past exploits. There's a big honking loose end at the finish of this book, though. It would be interesting to see how that works out, but given the state of my TBR pile …

Last Modified 2012-10-10 3:43 PM EST

Experimental Results


This week's test of the Sunday Basic Cable Movie Actor Theory:

  • 4:30AM on AMC: Clear and Present Danger (Harrison Ford)
  • 7:30AM on AMC: Patriot Games (Harrison Ford)
  • 7:30AM on TBS: Die Hard with a Vengeance (Bruce Willis)
  • 10:00AM on TBS: Die Hard (Bruce Willis)
  • 3:30PM on TNT: The Fifth Element (Bruce Willis)
  • 5:00PM on AMC: Clear and Present Danger (Harrison Ford)
  • 6:00PM on TNT: Men in Black (Will Smith)
  • 8:00PM on TNT: Men in Black II (Will Smith)
  • 9:45PM on TNT: Men in Black II (Will Smith)
  • 11:30PM on TNT: Men in Black (Will Smith)

Whoa. Our lads are all over the cablewaves today. And let's not forget our ace in the hole:

  • 1:30AM and 2:00PM on AMC: The Hunt for Red October
"I would like to have seen … Montana." Man, that always makes me tear up.

Theory status: unrefuted for 31 consecutive weeks.